Civil Liberties

Saturday Morning Massacre


So now the government wants

television to teach the kids:

Every broadcast network, if it

doesn't want to get in dutch

with Uncle Sam, will have to air

three—count 'em—three hours

of "high-quality" educational TV

a week. A thousand Puzzle Places

will bloom! Let slip The Magic

School Bus! Hail, hail Bill Nye

the Science Guy!

Cartoon hero Super Kid Clinton

and archvillain The One-Armed

Man don't agree on much, but

they get along like Starsky and

Hutch on the very pressing need

to make the boob tube

everybody's Miss Crabtree. Such

a policy is as delusional,

doomed, and guffaw-laden as one

of The Brain's schemes for world

domination. And just as easily

captured on videotape, if not as

easily rewound and erased.

Why won't such a great idea work?

For starters, TV stations are

already strong-armed into airing

kids' shows that supposedly

edify and uplift, the ethical

equivalent of a Wonderbra. The

Federal Communications

Commission, which allocates

licenses to TV and radio

stations, makes sure that

stations air educational kids'

shows that serve the "public

interest," a term more expansive

than and twice as sticky as

Super Elastic Bubble Plastic.

Past FCC definitions of "good"

kid TV shows provide an

indication of what the

government is likely to stamp

USTV prime: Winnie the Pooh and

Friends (starring a slothful,

glad-handing bear so obese that

his sides split whenever he

bends over to touch his toes and

so stupid that he regularly

sticks his head into bees' nests –

silly old bear); Saved By the

Bell (a pedophilic fantasy of

sub-Archie level high school

antics, one step removed from

kiddie porn); and The Smurfs (a

Belgian import every bit as

syrupy-sweet and vomit-inducing

as those goddamn waffles, and

one that inculcated little more

than genocidal hatred of the

blue-skinned peoples of the


Shows that somehow failed to

educate include The Flintstones

(perhaps because it propagated

not merely the creationist

belief that humans and dinosaurs

coexisted, but that they were on

relatively good terms); The

Jetsons (which dared to envision

a future in which the only

governmental function left was

the policing of speeding flying

saucers); and Super Mario

Brothers (which relegated

Italian-Americans to the

crassest Moustache Pete

stereotypes even as it

celebrated the strongest

fraternal bond since Jack and

Bobby Kennedy time-shared

Marilyn Monroe).

It all smacks of a rerun:

Beefed-up governmental mandates

in the 1970s were responsible

for the creation of all sorts of

edutainment TV that neither

taught much in the way of

meaningful knowledge nor glued

kids in front of the idiot box

so their parents could enjoy

their morning coffee in peace.

Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo, and the rest

of the Hanna-Barbera mafia

started flying around the globe

in a giant, ecologically

sensitive "ark," but even dumb

kids didn't believe that

Snagglepuss cared about putting

garbage in its place (Exit,

stage left). The Superfriends

featuring a group of DC heroes

(Superman, Batman, Robin,

Aquaman, and Wonder Woman) about

as interesting as a mayonnaise

sandwich—ended each show with

brief seminars in secret

knowledge: Don't lick electrical

outlets like lollipops, don't

get into cars with strangers,

don't lick strangers like

lollipops. Though a generation

bombarded by Schoolhouse Rock

knows where Lolly, Lolly, Lolly

got their adverbs, there's no

evidence that such human guinea

pigs can use those pesky "ly"

words more efficient-ly than

kids before or after.

But the whole push for good—or,

more correctly, good-fer-ya—TV

is misguided in yet another,

more interesting way: It totally

misrepresents what education

kids do glean from the tube,

especially on Saturday mornings.

Long before, say, Bugs Bunny had

his nuts chopped off and his

cartoons snipped to pieces by

network censors, the

Oscar-winning rabbit and his

pals taught a host of powerful,

potent, and subversive lessons:

that wiseacres have more fun;

that it is better to smurf

someone than be smurfed by them;

that tortoises beat hares


especially when tortoises cheat;

that authority exists to be

laughed at; that what goes

around comes around; that

monsters are the most

interestin' people; that the

world is, in the main, a cruel

and desperate place that would

just as soon drop an anvil on

your head as give you a hand up;

and, finally, that jokes, even

bitter, mean ones—perhaps

especially those—provide

something of a diversion.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.